The Reluctant Self-Publisher's Update on THE ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION

So many of you have been writing to ask me why The Answer to Your Question is not for sale on Amazon yet! 

Okay, a few of you have actually inquired (thank you). After all, I spouted all over the Internet that it would be available on January 1, 2013.  That was my publication date, and here I sit with nothing to show for it but a T-shirt.

For those of you following this saga, where we left off before the holidays was that I had everything in order: the novel had been copy edited, I had had the files formatted for eBook and print-on-demand, and I was ready to publish as soon as January 1 rolled around.  In the meantime, I offered the files of Answer free to anyone who wanted to read it on their Kindle or Ipad.  I hoped that if people liked it, they’d review it on Amazon when it went on sale.  I had a good number of takers, which made me happy.

One of the people who asked for the file was my Internet friend James Ashley Shea.  Jim wrote me a year ago that he loved my memoir Crossing the Moon, which made me love Jim.  He’s living in Thailand, and as he said in that first note, he’s read thousands of books, and hates most best sellers. Sounded like my kinda guy.  I was so taken with Jim being taken with Crossing that I wrote him right back and we struck up an Internet friendship.  I gladly sent him the Answer file. 

Right before Christmas I filled out the Kindle online eBook form for Answer, uploaded the cover and the mobi file, and clicked “save draft,” so that all I’d have to do on December 30th was press “publish” and voila, Answer would be available for sale on January 1.  I was all set.

No sooner had I closed my saved Amazon file than I opened my emails to find one from Jim.  He was reading Answer.  He wrote me, “Paulette, the nice thing about self-publishing is that you are in charge . . .  There are any number of things that must be changed.  Take a deep breath and learn the 90-90 rule: the first 90% of the job takes 90% of the time. The last 10% of the job takes the other 90% of the time.” 

He then gave me the page numbers of twelve mistakes in the manuscript that needed to be fixed.  And he was only on page 146.

To say I was floored would be an understatement. 

Some of the things he caught were judgment calls, but not all of them.  Such as:

  • Page 35: “stationary” when it should be “stationery.”
  • Page 62: “I stood for long time looking out at Puget Sound . . .” should be “a long time”
  • Page: 146: I going to do what Ben asked.”  You see the problem. 

He continued, “Paulette, I think you will agree that all the above glitches need to be fixed . . . but I haven’t finished reading the novel. Right now it is 4:00 a.m. in Thailand and I am on my first cup of green tea.”  Then, kindly, “The Answer to Your Question is a wonderful novel. There is no doubt about that.  But you will need to take some time and fix some things.  There is no hurry.”

He was right, absolutely. But the realization that I had to send the files back to the formatter for these changes and delay publication was disheartening, to say the least. 

Reader, it is a mystery and miracle to me that Jim Shea came into my life to save me from two dozen proofreading errors.  I assume there will still be mistakes in the final files (and Jim assures me there will be), but at least he caught these for me.  Dumbfounded by the whole thing, I asked him how in the world he could see things that everyone else had missed.  It turned out he had been a professional proofreader and editor during a lot of his career. 

I had to send corrections back to Rob at  to change in the files.  And the holidays were upon us.  I’m still waiting to get the files back.  I will let you know when the novel is finally published, hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve continued my reluctant education in self-publishing.  Here are my latest lessons:

Do not trust a copy editor to catch everything.

You absolutely can’t proofread your own work (nor can your husband); your eye reads what your brain thinks is there. For example, both Jeff and I read the manuscript many times, and every single time we read “Park Defiance Park” as “Point Defiance Park,” which is what I meant.  When I told Jeff that we had missed that, he didn’t believe it.  I had to show him the mistake in the text for him to accept that he hadn’t caught it.

And sometimes you get lucky.  A guardian angel who happens to be a professional proofreader living in Thailand will appear in your life out of the blue. 

Thank you, Jim!

Let's be friends

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  • Joanne Barney

    Pamela, your post came just as I was wondering if I might be senile and incapable of  reading my own writing.  I  had  thessame experience as you had with The Solarium, novel #l.  I sent a friend a typed ms because she doesn't to ebooks, and she sent back a list of forty typos, missing words, and misspellings, along with telling me she loved the story.  My book was already on Kindle, and I republished it ASAP.  After which, another friend friend bought it and found ten more glitches.

    I thought I'd learned my lesson.  With the next book, Graffiti Grandma, I had it proofread, added a zillion commas, and found out that Day-Glow is spelled Day-Glo, that Shelly, a nice girl, appeared as Sherry half way through the book,  that I'd misnumbered a chapter. Confident that I'd caught it all, I sent it on to Createspace and they sent back the digital copy which I was to proofread.  Five days later, almost blinded and certainly benumbed, I had made about one hundred changes to my "perfect" manuscript.  Today I sent it off, no longer able to even look at what I'd created, and I glanced over my hardcopy proof, discovered a typo on the back cover.

    So, thank you for letting me know I'm not alone; this is a indeed good news.  Before I became a writer, I was a high school English teacher.  Now I know what that red pencil feels like. 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi, Pamela, good to hear from you again and with your usual wonderful input.  omg, isn't it shocking when you get back those error reports that late in the game. You came out so well considering what was traumatic at first.  I'm glad to hear Createspace was so good about the changes--I've been pretty pleased with them all in all--and so great about getting a publisher (and more corrections! GEEZ). Fleas...right.  Slap. . .  

    Amyah, thanks for the good wishes and good advice. Others have mentioned reading aloud -- I wish I had, though I'm not sure my brain wouldn't have still overruled my eyes, I was so sick of the thing by that stage.  But I will definitely take your advice next time. 

    Oh Julie, grace and patience do not seem to be my strong suits, but thanks for the thought!  I am learning a lot of "life lessons" I guess you'd say from this self-publishing deal, and one is that I can control everything. You'd think I'd have gotten that by now . . . 

    Jenin, thanks for the read-aloud suggestion, which is obviously useful.  I will read my next novel to my dawg, Murphy . . . thanks for the nice words. 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Hi, dear shewrites friends!  I have been MIA because I've been teaching a workshop and attending the Key West literary seminar..."dirty work,"!  I've really enjoyed it, especially because I've escaped minus temps in Minneapolis!

    Essa, that is awful about the first page!  I think there will still be mistakes in mine but like you say, it's kinda par for the course. Best we can do is TRY HARD to catch as much as possible, and that involves much better proofreaders than we can be for our own work.

    Terianne, thanks and I so agree about the community.  If you can find my 6 earlier posts on shewrites--I posted under The Reluctant Self-Publisher, which I was, you will learn everything I know about self-publishing!  I myself have not figured out how to access those posts, so maybe Krissa or Kamy might tell us how to find them in the archives.  Probably obvious.  Anyway--I did have an agent who sent the novel around and no takers, so when she lost her job, I decided the time had come to self-publish.  And I "tell all" or at least some of what I experienced in my posts on my website and on shewrites.  Good luck and believe me, it is a process, including deciding to self-publish.

    Maretha, thanks for adding your "insites" and for your good cheer.  I'm hearing from people to read stuff aloud and I even had someone read the copy on my book jacket BACKWARDS to try to catch things.  It's a "challenge," as they say. 

    Stacey, you doll!  What a kind, generous note.  You let me off the hook!  I love that about wanting to read a book with a red pen in hand.  I did learn from this not to have just one copy editor and rely so heavily on one pair of eyes, but to really get a number of people not just to read the book but to PROOF read it --a different thing. Live and learn! 

  • Essa Adams

    I had several people read and they found mistakes and questions for me that needed answered.  Then my daughter went through and she is good.  Finds every little think, an eye like mine on I cannot see my own stuff.  And still there were three bleeps in the final novel and one was on the first page because I decided to change a sentence and was not careful or asking for proofing at the last minute. 

    There was a famous novelist, is still, and the proofreaders and editors failed her miserably, when I read her books two decades back I would cringe every other page.  It can get by even for the best.

  • Terianne Falcone

    I enjoyed that post. It is great to create community... have you ever met Jim, like in person???? The internet creates such cool friendships.

    I have an off-topic for you. I am new to shewrites and new to the concept of self publishing. i've read about it, but... still don't quite "get" it. had you tried to publish via an agent and publisher first or did you feel self publishing was the better route from the get-go? don't feel you have to answer this, but if anybody out there can point me in the direction of resources to learn about this stuff, i would much appreciate. thanks.

  • Thank you so much for sharing.  I have to add that I also don't have fantastic eyesight which adds to the problem of working on a computer, not seeing 'there' and 'their' and many of the usual pitfalls.  I even had 'site' and 'sight' at one stage, so what you are relaying to us is just too true to ignore.  Thank you so much! :-)

  • Stacey Wiedower

    Thanks for posting this experience, Paulette. How nice of Jim to share his feedback and his expertise with you! Like you said, "you absolutely can't proofread your own work." I've worked as an editor and proofreader throughout my professional career, too, and I know there are mistakes in my own drafts I haven't caught. Before I publish any piece of fiction (and I haven't yet), I'm going to want and need many sets of eyes on it....

    I don't think you do -- you seem to have handled this really well -- but don't feel at all bad that an outsider discovered errors in your manuscript. It's so much easier (for me, at least) to find the mistakes in someone else's work than in my own. Actually, I sometimes feel the urge to read (published) books with a red pen.

    I try to squelch that urge ... it isn't pretty. ;)

  • Pamela Olson

    The exact same thing happened to me -- an internet friend sent me an email detailing at least two dozen glaring typos -- but she did it after I had already published! I was mortified. A few hundred copies had already been sold.

    Two things were lucky. One, I was doing my own eBook formatting, so editing that was easy. Two, CreateSpace was amazing about allowing me to quickly put a Second Edition in circulation with all the typos fixed. I don't think they even charged me, because you're allowed a certain number of edits after you get your proof, which I hadn't yet taken advantage of.

    When I found a publisher, the copyeditor found almost a dozen more typos! Those things are seriously like fleas. Just when you think you've got 'em all . . .

  • Amyah L

    Had the same happened to me also... of course, not for an e-book but for the print version.

    Since then, I took the habit to read my book out loud, slowly, paying attention to what I read, and you would be surprised to see how many errors you can find.. like your "am" missing. When you read it out loud, you will stumble on many errors or ommissions and correct them right away. Of course, typos, orthograph errors, verbs tense could escape your hawkeye but...

    Thank you for your article, very interesting and... good luck for your book! :)

  • Julie Golden

    Not all bad... You climbed above your disappointment with grace and patience. Then you wrote a post that draws more attention to your book. Good job. 

  • JeninCanada

    I haven't published anything yet, nothing professional anyway, but I do have one tip; read things outloud. Read chunks of your novel outloud to yourself, to your partner, to your pets, whoever you have around, and you'll catch quite a few of those "Park Defiance Park" kinds of mistakes. Thanks for sharing, Paulette, and congratulations on your book.

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  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Me too, Tina.  I am going to have yet another pair of eyes even after copy editing and reviewing the next one myself, because I too have learned my lesson!  It somehow helps me to hear you were upset, too -- I'm sorry about the review copies that caused you pain, but hey, better that than the final, published version.  There is something disconcerting about thinking something is done, error-free, and then finding mistakes.  It was to me.  But now I know better (I hope). 

  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Maureen, Jim, my last minute proof reader, told me a great story about how a non-fiction book he read that was published by Knopf had so many errors that they had to reissue it.  Jim sent the author a list of mistakes he found, and she was so grateful she acknowledged him in the reissue (and she was a Stanford Professor).  I agree about seeing errors in published books.  We just can't catch every single thing, but hopefully most things with some effort (and more sets of good eyes).  Thanks for the support! 


  • Paulette Bates Alden

    Victoria, you're lucky to have a group like that, too.  I feel very lucky to have had Jim, even though I wasn't expecting to need any more review of the novel.  I am still a little mystified that the copy editor didn't catch these things, but I guess the moral is no one person can catch everything, or maybe to err is human?  Thanks for your note! 

  • Tina L. Hook

    4 weeks before my pub date, many months after my editor and beta readers had signed off, I discovered a chunk of typos and handed my manuscript off to a fresh pair of eyes. While I had enough time to make corrections, my critics called me out for those errors in the "advanced copies" that went out for review prior to publication. My husband might tell you I was inconsolable for a good 24 hours.

    I learned this lesson too, and I will be bringing in a fresh set of eyes 8 weeks prior to publication on the next book, no matter how perfect I think it might be.

  • Maureen E. Doallas

    Meeting a deadline means nothing if work goes out full of mistakes, because it's mistakes (depending on their severity) that stay in readers' and critics' minds. You absolutely did the right thing to stop the virtual press until corrections were made.

    Still, as you note, typographical, grammatical, and other errors get missed, no matter the publisher or the number of copy editors and proofreaders. I have yet to read a single book in which at least one error has not appeared. We're all human.

  • Victoria Landis

    Good for you, Paulette.  You're lucky to have such a friend.  I belong to a tough crit group that performed the same scrutiny for me, and it was worth the time it took to comb through the entire manuscript.  I'm looking forward to reading it.